DAY 58 SATURDAY 4th FEBRUARY 2017. KABALE, UGANDA
It’s a colourful event, this wedding that’s taking place in the hotel garden, everyone decked out in their finest, which in Africa is always a glittering rainbow selection. It’s 7.15 now and guests are beginning to leave but the music pounds on. They had a fine day for it up here in the mountains anyway. I had a fine day too; a spectacular ride into just about the farthest corner of the country. It’s the same way I went yesterday, only I continued right over the ranges today. So lovely was it, that I might even go that way again tomorrow if it’s another sunny day. I can go to Rwanda by a short but busy and boring road, or that longer way over the passes. If it’s sunny, I’ll go over the top.
The road was magnificent, sweeping this way and that over the intensely cultivated heights, fields and terraces to the very tops of the hills. It’s a fine example of road engineering too, in places almost equal with the roads of Lesotho. In parts, whole sides of the mountain had been re-sculpted dramatically. I’ve only seen such intense terraced cultivation in the Philippines and Bali, where, of course, it’s been developed into a wonderful scenic art form.
It was almost ten thirty before it was warm enough to start out, my breath condensing in the chill mountain air. It was certainly a morning, when I awoke at eight, to get back under the blanket for half an hour more. All day the distances were hazed atmospherically, the slopes sweeping down from my road into the plunging depths, every acre cultivated or dotted with homesteads: collections of rusty zinc and home baked clay bricks, usually unfinished. The roadsides of Uganda are peppered with small smoking brick kilns, heaps of bricks piled up about ten feet high with small tunnels at ground level for the fires. It’s a seasonal work and carried on near the roadsides for the obvious reason that there the bricks can be easily sold. I also notice, all across the country, the number of men sitting atop heaps of stones with hammers, breaking stones for sale, or sifting sand from roadside embankments. In this near-poverty economy, you make what you can, how you can. The pure effort that is expended all over Africa, doing things that we in the ‘developed’ world take for granted will be done by machines, is breathtaking. I see thousand upon thousands of people carrying water, day in day out, usually in yellow twenty litre jerrycans. And I don’t know the last time you lifted a twenty litre jerrycan of water? I did it two days ago. And I can assure you, it is HEAVY. I see slight women, young girls, even children – admittedly not with twenty litres, but often with at least five or ten – lugging water up mountainsides such that you or I would blanche at the very concept. But this is Africa – the real world; how most people outside our privileged existence cope…
I say it again: thank god I don’t have to live thus. I can come, exclaim, comprehend – and leave again to my easy existence in which I can turn on a tap – indoors! – and hot or cold water comes out almost 100% of the time. No mountains to climb in slippery mud; no boreholes to pump laboriously; no fires to tend to heat a sooty pan of water; no firewood to collect on mountainsides and carry home for that purpose. Just turn the tap… Clean, potable water. Think of that next time you turn the tap. Most of the world – MOST OF THE WORLD – has to carry water.
The wedding DJ signed off at 7.30 and all is relatively quiet now, the tents and gazebos dark, the sparkly bridal arches done for the day, guests dispersing. Someone will have a large bill..! Now the bar fire is lit, inevitable football from England – undoubtedly our biggest national export to the world – blares in the corner, tribal, partisan chanting from – I think, but haven’t really the commitment to find out – Chelsea, like an atmosphere track to any Saturday evening in Africa.
On my return from the mountain roads, I relaxed for a time at the coffee bar at the bottom of the hill, knowing that the wedding would be in full, noisy celebration up on my airy hill beside the golf course. Today I drank my coffee alone, my Kingston on Thames acquaintance of yesterday being absent. When we spoke yesterday he told me that he attended Harvard at the same time as Barack Obama. “Oh yes, I met him. He used to look out for the East African students. His father was from the Luo people you know, so he used to look for us, as some of us had Luo blood too and he was so interested in his heritage.”
“So what brought you back to Uganda?” I asked.
“My father died in twenty fourteen and I had to come back to sort out the inheritance. It’s amazing in Africa how people behave at that time, even paying lawyers to write false documents…” His father was one of the founding members of the parliament at independence in 1962 and a minister in the early government, although my acquaintance (whose name I omitted to get) admits that Uganda didn’t embrace independence very well, “We were complacent. Lazy…” His opinion of African politicians was low: self-interested, corrupt, arrogant and incompetent. The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni has maintained power since 1986, thanks of course to widespread intimidation, voter disenfranchisement, fraud and violence – the African political norm, except, I must claim on behalf of my Ghanaian brothers and family, in Ghana, a beacon of – relative – democracy on this continent. Democracy is largely a sham on this continent. Mind you, look what happens when you accept democracy: Brexit and Trump. That’s the problem with democracy – idiots have a vote equal to the informed…
An enjoyable day. I like this half-decent hotel and feel relaxed here. I’ll leave quite reluctantly, but there’s not much to keep me here longer. Maybe I’ll find another haven in the next stopping place.
DAY 59 SUNDAY 5th FEBRUARY 2017. GISENYI, RWANDA
It’s still faintly nerve-wracking, entering a new country, even if I’ve done it 96 times before! I never know quite what to expect and have my atmosphere meter turned up to full sensitivity. Different cultures, new languages, diverse customs, diverging expectations – starting again just when you’ve got accustomed to the neighbours.
First impressions of Rwanda are overwhelmingly positive! I don’t remember EVER being accosted at a border post by a personable young official of the tourism department and given no less than nine brochures, a short introduction and an official welcome. For that is just what Marechal is employed to do: spot an incoming tourist at the quiet border post and make him feel welcome and comfortable. VERY impressive. It suggests a degree of honesty that is extremely unusual – for Rwanda is known to the world by the hideous events of 1994. Rather than try to hide that horror, the nation has faced it, reconciled itself and admits culpability, and in facing it, is making very positive moves to try to change the attitudes of the world to this tiny country. “We see you as ambassadors for us! Please go home and tell your friends that Rwanda is a friendly and beautiful place!” exclaimed Marechal, the tall, slim tourist representative. If my first impressions prove correct, I am hereby doing just that! My impression of this small, landlocked country in the centre of Africa (880 miles to the Indian Ocean, 1250 to the Atlantic) is – already – open, honest, pragmatic, mature and cheerfully friendly, if the number of thumbs-ups and waves signifies anything. The tourist literature is frank about the genocide; there are memorials everywhere and nothing is hidden. It’s impressing me in much the same way as Nelson Mandela and his Truth and Reconciliation Commission did in South Africa. Sometimes, uncomfortable as it may be, you have to face your own history and admit the wrongs perpetrated. This seems to me so much more mature and honest than so-called ‘apologies’ for wrongs committed by previous generations, that preoccupy so many nations. Within hours Rwanda has gained my profound respect, not a bad achievement.
The day was sunny and lovely, the sun blasting through heavy mountain mists into my slightly jaded bedroom at the White Horse Inn in Kabale, where for some reason breakfast is served on tea plates. Try eating an egg on toast – well, two actually – from a tea plate! African has such amusing gaps in its style! As I topped up the bike’s oil and attended to the chain I listened to a ghastly racket emanating from a nearby public room of the hotel. Worship takes some strange forms… The noise was terrible! Utterly flat, out if tune and toneless chanting from a male voice and some equally horrible female ones, all amplified. “Whatever’s going on?” I asked the polite receptionist as I paid my bill (£50 for my three pleasant nights).
“Oh, it’s every Sunday. They come for two hours. They are called ‘Oasis of Love’,” with an almost imperceptible shrug of dismissal, “they hope they will get some donors…” His smile was discreet.
“So it’s business!” I commented, cynically. The receptionist just smiled wryly and made no comment. So much of what claims to be religion in Africa is just money-raising ventures. You have only to see the huge posters for the American charismatic preachers to know that. Any god that might be up there would have had her fingers in her ears this morning, listening to the cacophony from the White Horse Inn, Kabale. I was happy to put my ear plugs in and ride away into the peace of the magnificent mountains, where for the third day running I rode that wonderful sweeping road high over the passes, gazing down at vistas that seemed limitless, hazed by the mists below, and then through lush forests and great waving stands of bamboo over the heights. I must have been riding at eight or nine thousand feet at least as I crossed over and began the long twisting descent into the last valley of Uganda, where the huge volcanoes of the Uganda/ Rwanda/ Congo border rise skywards to over 4000 metres, one of Africa’s highest ranges. It was glorious, and no hardship to see it all for the third day running.
Being Sunday, everywhere I rode, the populace walked the roadside, dolled up to the nines in their Sunday best, colourful, flashy and gaudy – but magnificent in the sheer style that even village Africa can present for an occasion. Men wore ill-fitting western suits, secondhand from the bundles that our charity shops reject; children looked charming but stifled in clean Sunday dresses and shirts. Across the border in Rwanda, the numbers of people were even more extreme, and on my way to Gisenyi I seldom was without roadside pedestrians. I know, because I was searching for a place to piss! I didn’t find one…
Descending the curls and curves of the fine road towards Kisoro, the last part of Uganda again, I met the first European bike travellers I have bumped into, Mary and Jonathan from Ireland. Jonathan had a slow front puncture on his 500cc Honda and stopped every few miles to refill it – with a motorised pump from his vast luggage. Both of them rode 500cc Hondas, loaded with everything you can imagine on a trans-Africa expedition and no doubt a lot you can’t! They left Ireland in October and have ridden down through Egypt and Ethiopia, making their way to South Africa eventually. Their bikes must have weighed double their dry weight. I looked at my two small part-filled cloth panniers that weigh about ten kilos and wondered what it must be like to ride a bike so heavy. I’ve got it down to an art now, I admit, but to lug all that ‘stuff’ about, to care for it, load and unload, keep it secure. Oh boy! I’m happy I have learned THAT lesson. We crossed the border together but I didn’t see them again as I stopped to relax and enjoy (really good!) African tea – milk and water mixed and boiled together and spiced with ginger and sometimes cinnamon – and to chat with Marechal and then to amble on. They had an appointment tomorrow with some extremely expensive gorillas and had no time to relax and meet the people. They’ll get an hour with the gorillas for their £500; I get endless conversation with Rwandans for nothing. Each to their own of course.
My first impressions of this small country are remarkable. I feel tonight as if I am staying next to one of the Italian lakes, although in fact, across the road from my guest house window is Lake Kivu, a long convoluted lake between the Congo and Rwanda. It’s an inland sea of a sort, with sandy beaches and resorts. But my impressions…
Rwanda is so CLEAN! The government has BANNED plastic bags, the ‘flowers of Africa’! The streets and fields are tidy and well kept; traffic is disciplined and no driver has tried to kill me since I entered the country, unlike the two or three an hour who seem set on that in Uganda. People are quiet, respectful and very friendly – as I wrote, so many waved and gave me a thumbs up that it was like riding in Lesotho. It’s so orderly and calm it’s not like being in Africa. And I admit, it’s a relaxing change! And then there was Marechal, welcoming me to his nation, hoping, quite genuinely, that I will go away and expound upon its pleasures.
Maybe the shock of the events of 1994 have left this orderliness and mutual respect behind? For the populous to rise up in a frenzy of murder and killing must leave its psychological mark deeply ingrained, when sanity returns. I am SO interested to investigate this over the next few days, for I shall – inevitably – visit various memorials and testaments to the extraordinary horror of half the people rising in absolute blood lust and massacring members of the other half in the foulest, most obscene manner imaginable. Over a million people – a fifth of the population – were butchered in just 100 days, men, women, children, priests, babies, leaders, cleaners, fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers, waiters, office workers – utterly indiscriminately, by their neighbours, compatriots, and co-workers as the world looked on and kept its distance.
One of the surprises of Rwanda is to have to cross the road and ride again on the right side of the road, for Rwanda was a Belgian colony – and they must have been one the worst of all the colonial powers, with Germany coming in a close second, remembering the atrocities they committed in Namibia in 1907 that I discovered a year ago, when they massacred a large chunk of the population in revenge for an uprising, a happening that is said to have been the model for Hitler’s ‘final solution’ a few decades later… Congo still suffers from so many ills brought upon it by being King Leopold’s playground for so long. Rwanda can probably trace a lot of its problems directly back to Belgian influence too…
So now I have to remember to ride right! Easier on a bike than in a car, so long as I remember when I pull out of car parks and side lanes. But at least here the traffic is disciplined and careful. There are few boda-bodas, and those carefully regulated and all riders and passengers – one only per boda-boda, unlike up to four in Uganda and Kenya – wearing helmets by law. Gosh, it’s like leaving Africa!
But after a month of riding here I still haven’t worked out the role of indicators! Sometimes – I think, or assume – they mean, ‘don’t overtake’, sometimes, ‘you CAN overtake’, sometimes, ‘I might turn left or right if I think about it’ – but more frequently I think they just mean, ‘I’m not concentrating on anything, let alone the road. I’m too busy on my mobile phone or arguing with my fifteen passengers to bother about my indicator switch’. I honestly don’t have ANY idea what they mean so I just assume they are purely cosmetic entertainment and ignore them all. I admit, I don’t use mine at all. There’s no point, since I’d be using them to signify that I am turning in the road – and no one would expect that anyway, even if they happen to be looking, which is unlikely as they’ve probably not even SEEN me anyway… So Rwanda is a rider’s delight so far!
The lake didn’t appear until I was within metres of it. Then it seemed like an Italian lake, but the Congo shores are invisible in the mists. The town isn’t attractive – although it DOES look like a town – and I was getting a bit despondent as I rode through. Then I found myself down by the lake shore passing a busy public beach, this being Sunday. Time to look for somewhere to stay…
Just past the public beach were some small hotels, but with their location they were likely to be expensive. However, I spotted a possible place, just across the road from the lake and pulled in to check. I hit right first time tonight. It’s a quiet, empty guest house and I am looked after by Christine, a pretty, shy young woman with an accent that almost sounds Chinese. The official languages here are the local tongue Kinyarwanda, English and French, but I get the impression that along with putting the genocide behind and looking to a brighter future, the country is encouraging English – in the ironic French phrase, now the ‘lingua Franca’.
My room is on the first floor under the roof; a small room but comfortable with a small bathroom. My window actually looks across the road to the lake and I have just eaten my supper in a timber structure raised up above the gardens looking over the lake. I appear to be the only guest. It’s very pleasant – and £15. I’m drinking my second Primus beer, (5%) surprised to find it comes in 75cl bottles! Not bad beer in the customary gassy lager style that is all over Africa, shamefully, with added sugar.
So here I am in Rwanda! I have positive feelings about the next days. I have 14 days on my visa and motorbike insurance and it’s a small country. So far, so very, very good… At 9.35, I am done – and faintly inebriated…
DAY 60 MONDAY 6th FEBRUARY 2017. GISENYI, RWANDA
It seems that as I crossed the border yesterday I went back in time by an hour: here I am in Central African Time. Thus was I up for my breakfast soon after seven this morning, rather than eight. It’s made it a long day, but I haven’t done a great deal, just enjoyed the calm seaside atmosphere of the town. It does feel like the seaside, even though this is just a large inland lake. The town boasts long sandy beaches, some of them public, some beachside bars and a fine corniche drive of about half a mile, that could be in Europe. The beaches are clean, litter-free and even had evidence of having been brushed this morning by hand brooms. There are litter bins and all is refreshingly tidy, cared for – and, frankly, rather unAfrican. The town’s similarly well kept and tidy.
Up early, waiting on my breakfast on the terrace, the sun appeared over the steep hills behind the guest house, lighting up the expansive lake between the garden trees. Breakfast was excellent – I love the fact that for the past week or more I have enjoyed delicious fresh pineapple every morning. A Spanish omelette is the customary offering in these countries, served frequently with spongy, tasteless bread or a greasy fried chapati. Distrusting coffee as it’s so often instant, I take African tea, a beverage I must perfect for home consumption. Then I got changed to start my day and was quickly engulfed by a torrential rainstorm! I scurried back to shelter, now soggy as I stood amongst wet passers by who’d run in from the road outside to join me under the guest house terrace. Rwandans are friendly but much more distant and discreet than the cheerfully warm Ugandans. They are reserved and shy – and sadly, although they speak limited English, many of them know the words, “give me money…” I hope this is just that I am in a very touristic (for Rwanda) place, where many French people come. This problem of petty opportunistic begging is ALWAYS oddly exacerbated in French-speaking Africa. I don’t feel the warmth and closeness here, although I must say the waving and thumbs-upping is amusing. Just a shame many small hands then turn palms upward as I pass. A few respectable-looking adults too… As I say, I hope it’s just here in gorilla country, for this is the centre of the gorilla-trekking industry – and at £500 a go, it’s a place of wealthy tourism.
In 1984 a lake in Cameroon emitted a noxious cloud and 37 people mysteriously died. Later, in 1986, another lake in another part of Cameroon exploded and 1700 people died, suffocated in bizarre circumstances. It was then discovered that it wasn’t, as feared, some chemical warfare, but lethal methane. It was found that those lakes were saturated with methane gas. The Cameroon government began a process of sucking the dangerous gases from the lake bottom and releasing them into the air above. But it was this lake, Kivu, two thousand times bigger than the Cameroon lakes, that gave even more concern. For this lake is surrounded by a population of a couple of millions. The Rwandan government began to investigate how they could prevent a catastrophic eruption of methane in Lake Kivu, and in so doing, realised that methane could be used to generate electricity – in a small country in which 78% of the people lived without electricity. It was a struggle to raise the loans and funding internationally, in a region which is very volcanic – it’s the nearby volcano that pumps its gases into the lake. It’s only 15 years ago that the volcano on the horizon, Nyiragongo, blew its top and engulfed Gisenyi’s contiguous town of Goma, just a mile away in Congo. In 2016 the methane project got properly under way and from my window I can see the well-head a mile or so offshore.
After the rain cleared the ground soon dried. I am only a degree and a half from the Equator after all. I took a dirt road for a few miles southwards down the lake shore through endless small villages and farms. Hardly an acre of the landscape here is uncultivated, the sloping terraces stretching right to the high ridges above and down to the beaches below. About ten or twelve miles down the coast I turned around. It’s difficult to get information here and I had no idea how far I would have to ride – on still slightly slippery tracks – until I found a tar road to bring me back. And in front rain clouds were gathering again, although in fact it turned into a hot, sunny afternoon. By the time I turned, I had the impression that the scenery and track would probably continue in just the same meandering fashion for the rest of the journey to the south end of the lake, a long way off. I rode back to town and spent the afternoon sauntering along the beachfront, an activity I seldom much appreciate – but the sun was shining and a day of rest isn’t a bad thing now and again.
It was good fortune to find this well placed, quiet guest house. I realised today that the difference in my budgets these days, that gives me so much more pleasure than the old grotels I always used on past journeys, is rather like the difference in wine. I CAN tell the difference between a £4 bottle of wine and a £10 bottle, but I can’t really tell the difference between that and a £50 bottle! Now I tend to seek out the £10 bottle/ hotel instead of the £4 ones. You’ll never get me paying for the expensive ones though; this level is just fine for me, and the extra comforts and peace much appreciated.
The raised timber bar area is pleasant too, people walking past talking in the street below, as motorbikes whizz and putter along the lakeshore road. Smiling Christine is cooking me a meal. Her English is rudimentary (better than that of Janine, the owner, and better, it must be said, than my very rusty French)… “I have meat of cow or meat of chicken, with lice or potato, I cook or fry? Vegetables I have.” All with a lovely smile but an oddly Chinese accent to her English, which is however, her third language. I shall try to stick to one big bottle of Primus tonight (made just along the road I took beside the lake this morning); I didn’t sleep well on two.
DAY 61 TUESDAY 7th FEBRUARY 2017. KIBUYE, RWANDA
Funny, isn’t it, some days just ‘work’! A terrific day; a wonderful ride; I’m at peace. Oddly, yesterday I was riding about rather bored and wondering why the hell I do all this? Then today, I find the answer.
Kibuye is half way down Lake Kivu, in a particularly fine position, with many small tree-covered islands offshore and the still, mirror-like lake below my balcony tonight. I have bargained my way into a half-decent hotel at a 25% discount and for that I have a large, slightly faded room with a bathroom and even a balcony. Better still, though, is the beach bar at lake level and the terrace on which I am writing now gazing across the silent lake towards where the Congo must be. I’ve a ‘Turbo King’ at my elbow, a dark, strong beer, and I am pleasantly weary from a hard ride on some fine but rough, degraded roads.
On one beer I slept well last night! And the morning dawned bright, sunny and fresh, in my small room under the roof, across from the lake. It was one of those days that went well from the outset. And looks like ending well too…
I really hadn’t a plan for today. Such as I had, hinged upon whether the road I had thought I might use to the south was tarred or not. I thought I might make for Kigale, the Rwandan capital, but the bright morning, the sun and my relaxed state persuaded me to ride south. And, sure enough, the road was a fine new tarred road.
For the first fifteen miles, it was..! Then I was into road building territory. Road building is perhaps more difficult to negotiate than just dirt roads. For when they are constructing roads, it means a complete upheaval and shambles. (As I write, a sudden torrential shower comes from nowhere! Thunder and lightning and rain beating on the terrace roof above. I thought this was a calm, tranquil evening! Well, so long as it rains at night while I am sleeping – or drinking my evening beers – I don’t care.) Had I been riding that road in rain it would have been a different matter entirely. As it was, (Wow! It’s hammering down!), I just had to bounce and sometimes slither my way through loose soil, rock works, lumps and bumps. I LOVE this sort of riding on a sunny day in magnificent mountain scenery!
In the early part of my ride I climbed up into the most scenically satisfying tea estates. I make no apology for repeating that tea is one of the most beautiful crops: it carpets the hillsides like brilliant green flocking. It hugs the sensuous curves of the hills, is deeply green with that iridescent top and almost unnaturally tidy. The tea leaves that we use to infuse our national beverage come from the bright green, fresh new growth on the top of the plant. So tea bushes remain at a pretty constant couple of feet high; fitted to the slopes and contours and dotted by small coppices and individual trees that supply dappled shadows and give depth and beauty to the landscape. It is one of the world’s absolute scenic delights, is tea. Pity it doesn’t taste as good – but that’s only a personal opinion! And, I have to say, the tea WE now drink is actually just dust from the very bottom of the quality sieves. Literally, for we now drink mainly from tea bags, the dregs of the tea that is graded downwards depending which sieve it doesn’t pass through. So the best tea is the Broken Orange Pekoe leaf tea (I’m talking Sri Lanka here, the only tea I have actually watched being produced) to the dust that is swept out of the bottom sieve (basically, the floor!) and goes into our tea bags…
Well, the tea estates were magnificent, gleaming and lustrous over the hills all around my road. I rode in a sort of intoxication at the loveliness around me. Rwanda is certainly a very handsome country. It brings to mind my favourite, Lesotho. The similarities are there in the elevation, the steep mountainsides, the curling roads and the general sense of landlocked independence. People are ready with wide smiles and the thumbs-up greeting is universal. Pity that the one English phrase known to all is ‘give me money’. This began to irritate me until I remembered that after 1994 and the genocide, for the following decade – or more – the country was flooded by foreign aid organisations and NGOs – well after the genocidal stable door had closed – and probably the rural people just associate white skins with hand-outs. They maintain that national memory of aid-dependency and what have you to lose (except my respect, and that doesn’t count for much…) by putting out your hand, palm up? That and French-language colonialism – for the Francophone colonials were always much more paternalistic in their control – and created unpleasantly wheedling, needy cultures in their past colonies. I well remember the customary greetings in Burkina Faso and Niger: “Bonjour, bon-bon?” and “Bonjour, cadeau?” It’s not to say that petty begging is entirely absent in the Anglophone African lands, but it is rare. Some uneducated children will try and I am often importuned by Basotho shepherd boys for food or water, and occasionally cigarettes – but they are abandoned for months up on the high slopes with the most basic of sustenance, so if I have some in my bag I usually share my eet-sum-more shortbreads!
Oddly, though, the countryside here just now seems to me to be fertile and abundant – unless I am reading the social signs wrongly. This is a season of bananas and fruits and it appears to be reasonably plentiful. Yet I have had a number of people, one man quite smartly dressed, extend his hand and tell me to give him food. Maybe they’re just chancers?
Up in the heights, I suppose I was riding at about two thousand metres, maybe a more, I passed through a lovely stretch off coniferous forest and then on into endlessly cultivated hillsides dotted with shiny zinc roofs. Far away I could discern the lake between steep slopes. For a time, I could have been in central Italy, for the houses were roofed in shapely brown pantiles, walls plastered and the landscape with that distinct Umbrian brownness amongst the dense greens. It needed only a few slender poplars… (and a cafe latte..!). My road was wonderful and I was smiling. Here and there I passed road crews and large machinery, although much of the graft here is by hand – many hands. Sometimes I had to slip and slide through mud or deep newly turned soil; often bump and bounce over rocky outcrops. In a year’s time this will be a magnificent road. For now it is torture, but satisfying when you reach the end and look back on a struggle overcome!
At last I reached the tar road again. There is a HUGE amount of investment in this country right now, fine new roads and infrastructure. Of course, the new road I travelled was contracted to the Hunan Bridge and Road construction Company – the usual worrying trend in Africa for China to be building just about everything. China doesn’t do it for the benefit of Africa, but for their own wealth. It struck me today, as I passed numerous signboards, as I do very day, ‘supported by the European Union’, ‘aided by the peoples of the USA’, and the like – I NEVER have seen ‘supported by the People’s Republic of China’. That nation does NOTHING for nothing… Let me know when you see a Chinese charity…
Finally, I reached Kibuye. But it was confusing, for many of Rwanda’s place names are being changed and even the tourist maps that I am using have different locations recorded. Sometimes I am not actually sure where the hell I am! I don’t know the reason for the name changes, perhaps they were too associated with the old Hutu regime? Or perhaps this is just Africa… Kibuye, or wherever it now is, is a selection of small headlands reaching out into the lake dotted with small islands. It’s lovely, and rural and peaceful. I rode around for a bit, as usual, having decided to stay here tonight. A few hotels presented themselves. One, at the end of a scenic peninsular was obviously way beyond my budget, but back on a pretty bay I found the ‘Hotel de Golf, Eden Rock’ (not much golf in sight). This one looked just about run down enough, despite it’s layered, balconied, lakeside look, to be within budget, or bargainable budget! And so it proved… “Ah, un person, vingt milles Francs Rwandan!” the receptionist told me. “Oh, what a pity!” said I with a big smile. “My budget is only quinze mille! (15,000 = £15).
I was in! I have a huge room – after last night’s pleasant cupboard – with a bathroom and balcony from which I can view the lake, a vast bed – and another single one should I feel the need for variety – a giant TV that’ll stay off, and dinner on the terrace overlooking the silent, calm lake now the storm has passed. A GOOD day’s travelling today.
The storm passed quickly. All is peaceful now. Tomorrow I think I’ll continue southwards, to the end of the lake. Lake Kivu is about 55 miles long and 35 miles wide.
Next door is a new museum, a Museum of the Environment, a worthy effort, if a bit wordy. Rwanda is certainly making every effort to encourage tourism – although a look around Kibuye tonight would probably prove that I am the only foreigner in town. The very charming and elegantly pretty Francine showed me round – I was the only visitor in this expensive new museum. She confirmed my assumption that English is being encouraged over French these days. Her’s was excellent, although the majority of Rwandans I’ve met have limited English as yet. It does make me feel a little more isolated than I was in cheerful, friendly Uganda. I begin to think about returning through that country, for it’s only the driving that puts me off! I DID like the Ugandans! Maybe… I can decide at my own whim.
Time to retire I think. I’ve had three very good Turbo King beers. They are 6.5% alcohol and a good dark beer – pity about the added sugar. I only just realised that they cost 70 pence a half litre bottle, on the hotel balcony with a view worth many pounds! Gosh, one could become alcoholic very cheaply in Rwanda! Seeing me with my Turbo King, with its lion logo, a young man beside me at the little beach said, “Ah, Primus, it is for les femmes… women!” Primus, pronounced ‘preemus’ of course, is the gassy Rwandan lager – at £1 for a chunky 75cl bottle.